CAIRO—A group is going to court to fight what it says is the illegal practice by Cairo University of requiring professors to pay a minimum fee of 10,000 Egyptian Pounds (about $1,250) before they can travel. The university insists the fees are optional, although a written decision it issued indicates otherwise.
The new decision, which Al-Fanar Media recently obtained a copy of, was issued in July after the ministry of higher education started requiring security-services approval for university professors when they travel to attend scientific conferences. The decision requires the 10,000 Egyptian pounds payment as a donation to the university from each professor with less than ten years of experience and who wants to travel abroad under any name, and for any professional reason. Professors with more than ten years of work experience pay 20,000 Egyptian pounds ($2,500).
The Association for Free Thought and Expression, an independent human rights organization, has filed a lawsuit in the Administrative Judicial Court to challenge the decision.
“Collecting money in this way does not have any legal basis, as donations should be optional rather than mandatory, as the decision states,” said Mohammed Abdulsalam, the head of the association’s academic freedom and student rights department.
The association calls, in the lawsuit filed by Waleed Tawfiq, an assistant professor at the National Institute of Laser-Enhanced Sciences against the minister of higher education and the president of Cairo University, for a halt the new practice, the cancellation of the University Council’s decision, and a requirement that the university disclose the legal basis on which it is collecting the money and the plans for spending it. The lawsuit also calls on the university to give back the payments from Professor Tawfiq to allow him to travel, a total of 25,000 Egyptian pounds ($3,185).
Gaber Nassar, the president of Cairo University, refused to comment on the issue, saying it is under judicial review. But he said the donation is optional and that all the raised money will go to the benefit of developing the Research Laboratories Fund at the university.
“This is not true,” said Mohammed Kemal, a spokesman for the Independent Syndicate of Faculty Members at Egyptian universities. “Whoever refuses to pay the money will face various obstacles that block his travel and force him to pay. The amount is large and represents a real burden on professors.”
The 1972 law regulating the work of Egyptian universities states that it is possible for professors to give voluntary donations, but they cannot be mandatory.
Abdulsalam says the donation practice is illegal because the donations are obligatory and take advantage of a professor’s desire to travel.
“Legally, it is not possible to make the donation conditional. If there will be a condition it must be the donor’s condition, not the one who receives the donation,” Abdulsalam said, explaining that connecting the donation toa travel allowance means “it has absolutely become a fee.”
On top of many recent crackdowns on higher education in Egypt has come a resolution to amend the University Regulation Law, to allow the country’s president to appoint the presidents of universities and even the deans. Other decisions include banning veiled professors from teaching at Cairo University; imposing restrictions on the travel of students and professors; as well as the tracking of the activities of many students and professors, dismissals of many of them, and judicial verdicts that include criminal penalties and long jail sentences for them.
“Such decisions offend the image of Cairo University, which is the mother university in Egypt,” said Mohy Saad Mansour, a professor of mechanical engineering at the American University of Cairo.
Last September, Mansour was permitted to be temporarily assigned to the American University of Cairo from Cairo University. But the process could not take place until after he paid a donation.
“My transfer papers were not sent until after I signed an endorsement that I would pay that amount as an optional donation to the university, which is in fact mandatory,” he said.
The lawsuit filed by the Association for Free Thought and Expression is not the first of its kind. Many lawsuits have already been filed by professors against a variety of decisions issued by the Cairo University administration, such as suspending some professors’ work, and others against the ban of the niqab on faculty members. Still, all those lawsuits have been rejected so far.